For the Love of Dogs

Towards the end of May, our cocker spaniel, Ruby, had three puppies and we have two of them still living with us : Betty is staying here with our family but Arthur is staying here temporarily, until my niece is ready for him. They have brought such joy to our lives since they arrived, unplanned. Yesterday morning Betty sneaked through the door and came upstairs with me to wake Joshua and give him his porridge – the pups are so fast and slippery these days! I slid open his bedroom door and before I had time to wake him up gently, Betty was on his bed and licking his face as her greeting. I thought that might have been a rude awakening, but he grinned at me and giggled as she wriggled around on his pillow, delighted to see him. He responded happily to her greeting and then she gazed at me waiting to see if there was any leftover porridge for her.

As we are having new windows fitted, the house is in chaos with all doors and gates left open for the contractors, so all week, the dogs have come with me to work and stayed in the truck, until lunchtime when we have enjoyed a long walk together and another at the end of the working day and we have all enjoyed that  temporary routine.

This weekend, Arthur is staying with my niece so after work I drove to the station and walked him in to wait, on his lead. I loved the reaction that he got as he made so many people smile, even if they just walked by. But a large number could not resist his animal magnetism and came over to say hello and to stroke him, several saying how he had improved their day. One couple with special needs spotted him from inside a cafe and came rushing out , picked him up and began kissing him. One lady told me that she loved his long waggy tail and another asked if he could stroke him, then asked if I thought a dog might help him with his anxiety? I was very proud of Arthur and how well he coped with all this attention from strangers, taking it all in his stride. In fact, later, when nobody approached him for a while, he looked accusingly at passers-by as if to say ‘Hey, can’t you see how cute I am?’

So my experience yesterday proved what I already knew, that dogs make people happy, they bring joy to humans. Not only have our 15 week old puppies taken Joshua to their hearts, allowing him to stretch their heads backwards, as he likes to do ,with no retaliation, but  they are brave and open to strangers too, confident that they will be loved by everyone. This litter was not planned nor initially wanted, but the reality is that they could not have arrived at a better time as both comfort and distraction, and we will give them the best, most loving homes possible.

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Mumeries

My weekend of Mum-Memories was made complete by staying overnight at her house, so that I could go to her church on Sunday morning.I was up early as usual, playing with the puppies in her beautiful garden and enjoying the peace of the morning and picking the broad beans that were growing. Then I headed to church, where I received the warmest of welcomes. It was an informal service so rather than being set out in traditional pew style,  the chairs were arranged around tables of 6 people and they call it ‘Cafe Church’. The steward asked me if I knew anyone to sit with when I arrived and when I looked into church, I recognised someone from the Croquet at almost every table, which was lovely. One lady waved at me and beckoned me over, so I sat at her table.

I had just got settled when an elderly lady from the croquet, came across to give me a gift to thank me for inviting her to the Croquet event : she now lives in a flat and has really missed her large garden and it clearly gave her a lot of pleasure to spend an afternoon, with friends, in Mum’s garden. So that was a very moving start to the proceedings.

The service began and as it was the 150 year anniversary of Action for Children, there was a childhood theme to the service and we gave our collection to this charity. A young family presented what they do to the congregation, including a song with actions that Mum would have loved. We had 15 minutes on our tables to discuss our childhoods and how they compare with the lives that today’s young people live. A lady spoke about what the church had raised for Action for Children, and she had been involved with the charity since she was 16 years old, which  was at least 50 years.

Not everyone is keen on this more modern, informal style of church service, but from my perspective it was much more interactive than a traditional style and I was able to chat to the five other people on our table, rather than simply listening to one minister’s sermon, so I enjoyed it very much. The time passed quickly and at the end I was invited to stay for a church meeting and my lunch, but I excused myself as we wanted to head back home as we had to collect Joshua from respite and my husband wanted to be home in time to watch the Wimbledon final. I had many hugs from Mum’s friends and certainly felt that I would go again when I next have a weekend in Mum’s town. It was certainly a perfect weekend to feel close to her and to be reminded how many friends she had who love and miss her still.

The Impact of Joshua

For anyone to suggest that Joshua has ‘ruined my life’ , or has uttered the words ‘what a shame’ when they have seen him, has missed the point totally:

  • They cannot have seen the way that Joshua’s face lights up when he sees me. They must never have witnessed the endless bear hugs that I receive, when he squeezes me tight, while he gently pats my back or strokes my hair at the same time .  They have not witnessed the twinkle in Joshua’s eye as he pats his chest , then points at me, in his sign language for ” I love you!” These are all clearly Joshua’s expressions of unconditional love for his Mum and they are to be envied, rather than being pitied. How many other mothers of 18 years olds receive such blatant expressions of love from their 18 year old sons
  • My life is much richer for having Joshua in it and , although he is sometimes  challenging and demanding, I would always rather have him in it, rather than not. To suggest that Joshua has ruined my life, is to imply that I would be better off without him; but how insensitive and inaccurate would that be? How could anyone suggest such a crass thing to a fellow human being? When I think about the occasions that we might have lost him, during surgery for instance when he has had general anesthetic, while waiting for him to come around, agonising, I have never once thought that it would be better for everyone if he simply did not wake up. Instead I have paced around , counting the minutes until he is awake and there, smiling back at me. It is the same when Joshua is at respite, while I love and appreciate the brief break from my caring duties, I am always desperate to get him back as I miss him.
  • So what have I missed out on by having Joshua in my life?  We have not had the luxury of dining out  in fancy restaurants or had luxury holidays, where the likes of Joshua is not welcome. But I am not so shallow as to think that is something that matters at all. We have not been able to share the pride of our son passing his GSCEs or pass his driving test and Joshua will not be setting off to University this autumn, but that does not matter in the grand scale of things. We have celebrated much more significant life skills than those : Joshua has walked, against adversity, but his determination helped him to walk. I celebrate whenever Joshua uses a new word or phrase and his clear ” thanks yous” in cafes and shops, make me beam with pride at my rare, well-mannered son. I am sad that I will never be the mother of the groom and we will never be grandparents, but those two life stages are not actually guaranteed to any of us.

Joshua has not ruined my life,rather, he has enhanced it; I have experienced first hand what it is like to be a mother and that hands-on nature of parenthood will continue for the rest of his, or my, life, whichever ends first. Joshua going to special school has given me the opportunity to meet some kind, caring friends, who I would not have known even existed and that would be  a great loss to my life.  Being Joshua’s mother has given me the insight to be able to share my thoughts and experiences in this blog, which is a vehicle for expression that I really value in my life. But most of all, without Joshua, I would not have experienced generous, unconditional love that sustains me through difficult times and lifts my spirits. Anyone who suggests that he has ruined my life, must be blind.

Live Love Laugh

Life is fragile and can be snatched away from us at any time, so we need to make the most of the life that we are given. We need to find time for the things and people that we love and to try hard not to get bogged down in the minutiae. It is important to tell the people that we care for, what and how much they mean to us ,as none of us are going to be around forever. When our loved ones have gone, we do not want to have regrets about the things that we said or indeed, about the important things that we never said to them when we could. I can be over-emotional and rather soppy, but it is just so that the people that I care for, are left in no doubt how I feel about them.

Life is precious and we all know how quickly it flies by, one minute Joshua was born and the next we have celebrated his 18th birthday and he is an adult. So I am going to try to do the things that I want to do now, plan them in, rather than saying I would like to go to Rome one day or that I must get back in touch with that old friend that I have not heard from. That motto goes for Joshua too, I need to enable him to do things that he enjoys, as none of us know how much time we have and how fit and well we will be to enjoy it either. We hear too often of hard working  people who defer all of their travelling and hobbies until they retire, and then they are struck down by ill health once they reach their magical retirement age. I am determined not to be that person, but to grab opportunities whenever they come my way. I have worked hard since I left University in 1990 and so now I am thinking more about playing too.

Joshua is  a well-travelled young man, even though he is a home-bird really, and  we try to enrich his life with trips to the theatre , meals out, family parties and exciting visits to Tesco. Within the confines of his disability, I hope that he enjoys life to the full. I know that he feels loved, and he loves in return, and he likes to laugh, even if it is at other’s expense as he trips them up or kicks them. When Joshua leaves school next summer, it is important that we find alternative daycare that makes him as happy as school does and where he can feel as loved and safe as he currently does. It will not just be about getting him out of the house, he needs to be stimulated and to have the social interaction that he craves, so we will have our work cut out in finding him that placement; but it is critical that we get it right as he deserves the best that we can find.

 

Magic Moments

When I collected Joshua from school yesterday, I bumped into the Headteacher who asked if he had had a good birthday, asked how could my son have grown to be 18 years old – I questioned I asked myself all day! – and if I had had ‘a moment’ at all? She knows, as most people who know me know, that I am an emotional person and that it does not take much for me to cry. I replied that I had experienced several moments all day. I have always found Joshua’s birthday emotional : we celebrate Joshua reaching another milestone and the 18th birthday has to be one of the biggest so far; it is always bittersweet, full of memories of 5 March 2001 and being my Dad’s birthday too, I always think more about Joshua’s Grandpa than on other days. But I thought that I would share with you. the ‘moments’ that I had during the course of yesterday, when the emotion for me spilled over into happy tears:

  • I was totally moved by all of the wonderful, kind messages and  photographs that were posted on Facebook, wishing Joshua a happy day. He was inundated with kindness from a wide range of family, friends and acquaintances- including some lovely words from our Great Ormond Street families.. I wanted to post some baby photographs of Joshua but of course 2001 was before digital technology and easy sharing from the mobile phone. But I was delighted to find our birth announcement cards that his Grandad had lovingly made with photographs from his earliest days and so I snapped and posted that. To see that tiny baby and our young, scared but hopeful faces on the day we brought our new baby home, made me well up.
  • My first tears were shed when I opened an email from his keyworker from Respite who had taken the time to send birthday wishes from her holiday, which took me aback. But I wept when I read ” He truly is an amazing young man who is an absolute pleasure to spend time with”
  • I cried again when I saw him after school and I felt the love that was shown towards him and realised what a huge impression he had made  there and of course started to speculate on the day next Summer when he has to leave this environment ,where he feels comfortable enough to lie on the floor, and absorb the love and attention that was thrown his way as staff walked passed him on their way home
  • My husband and I took Joshua to Donald’s, his own choice of birthday tea without a doubt. He was drowsy on the way there and looked as though a seizure might be on the horizon too. But as we drove up to the fast food restaurant, he leapt into life and began to shout ” Donalds” and he made it clear that this time, he was not taking no for an answer. We took his birthday balloons with us, to make the experience special and Joshua chose his table and slid into position. He sat beautifully while I placed the order, just smiling and waving at me in the queue, but perfectly content. I chose table service and the girl who brought his food commented that it must be his birthday and Joshua gave her his best “thank you”. He tucked into the chicken and chips with gusto, not waiting for his Dad to arrive later, and you would have thought that it was a Michelin-starred meal, the appreciation that he showed for both the food and the setting. It is the simple things that made Joshua’s day special.
  • We did not begin opening cards and presents until after 8pm, as he needed a nap when he got home – it is exhausting being an adult. I was really moved by so many photograph cards showing happy, smiling Joshua, by kind messages of congratulations and good wishes for his future and of generosity of gifts. I know how difficult Joshua is to buy for, so family and friends have been really creative in trying to make his 18th birthday so special. I cried when I opened Joshua’s card from his Granny, as it enclosed a Garden Centre voucher, which is something that Grandpa would have approved of. She suggested that we buy and plant him a tree for his 18th birthday, to mark this day, which is just the best idea.
  • Finally I cried  as I tucked Joshua in bed, at his usual 9pm – no late night or first pint in the pub for him! I kissed him good night and told him how proud I was of him and  how lucky he was and this deep voice came out of the darkness, saying “Thank you”. So I gave him another kiss and left him to sleep.

So you see, there were plenty of ‘moments’, but none of them sad or resentful, all of them  were motivated by love and gratitude.

Love is in the Air

Joshua may be virtually non-verbal, but that does not mean that he cannot communicate how he is feeling. Last night, when we got home at 8pm, after not seeing him for five days, Joshua heard us come home. He was in his bedroom, Yorkshire Grandma was getting him ready for a bath, and as we came upstairs, he started shouting ” I like you!”. He leapt off his bed in a state of undress, and gave me the biggest hug ever. He kept looking at Yorkshire Grandma then at us and he would squeeze me again. His eyes were twinkling and dancing with excitement, he was so happy to be reunited again. He hugged me while I heard stories from the weekend and then he grabbed my hand and lead me towards the bathroom. It was clear that he wanted me to help him into the bath as he waved goodbye to Yorkshire Grandma, grinning, so she was dismissed and no longer needed. During his bath, he kept looking at me in disbelief and saying ” Thank you”.

I have never had a welcome home like it, nor felt more loved and wanted by him. I feared that he might not want to go to bed, that he was too excited, but after his bath, he got into his pyjamas and then bed, without any fuss at all. He snuggled down and happily took his bedtime kiss, content that normality was resumed. I am looking forward to getting him ready for school this morning, to seeing if he is still as pleased to have me back home.

Joshua may not be able to express much about how he is feeling, but he can certainly show and share love, which must be the most important emotion to be able to demonstrate, and so I am very grateful for that.

Too good to be True

Joshua has always shown that he loves me, by the way that his face lights up when I get home from work or when I appear unexpectedy at school, by the bear hugs that he frequently gives me and by the fact that he follows me around at home, desperately trying to get my attention. That all means so much and I have never had to worry how he feels, even when he was pretty mute or oblivious when I left him with a childminder or at school and he never gave me a second glance, as I have always known how he feels.

But Joshua said something very , very special yesterday morning, as we had finished getting dressed ready for school : He said ” Emma” and I said yes, with a snigger as it makes me giggle when he calls my name rather than saying ‘Mummy’ or ‘Mum’. He replied with ” I like you” and gave me one of his bear hugs. It briefly took my breath away and then I replied ” I like you too”. That he could voice how he was feeling was so special and if I never hear it again, I will always have that simple expression of affection from him. What a way to start my day, I was grinning from ear to ear.